In a long editorial marking International Women's Day, L'Osservatore Romano, the mouthpiece of the Roman Catholic Church, said washing machines had freed generations of women from the drudgery of housework.
"The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and relax," said the broadsheet's headline, above a black and white picture of two women in the 1950s admiring a front-loading machine.
"In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of western women?" asked the editorial.
"The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine." The first rudimentary washing machines appeared as far back as 1767, noted the article, with the first electrical models being produced at the beginning of the 20th century.
The eulogy to a domestic convenience which most women in developed countries now take for granted quoted the words of the late American feminist, Betty Friedan, who in 1963 described "the sublime mystique to being able to change the bed sheets twice a week instead of once".
While early models were expensive and unreliable, technology had improved to the point that there is now "the image of the super woman, smiling, made-up and radiant among the appliances of her house," wrote the Vatican newspaper.
The article provoked an angry response from some commentators and politicians.